Any grown-up who has been arrested understands how traumatic the experience is. It is even more traumatic for children when they become arrested for committing various offenses. When a child or a minor breaks the law, they are held accountable for their actions. However, unless the offense is of great magnitude to be tried as an adult, most minors are tried in juvenile courts.
When your child is accused of a crime, you should hire a lawyer who understands criminal law and can best represent them to avoid harsh penalties. Juvenile probation is one of the better outcomes in a juvenile delinquency case, and your attorney's skill in defending your child determines the outcome. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we understand parents' need to defend their child and the child's fear following the arrest. Because of this, we are committed to fighting the allegations against your child to a favorable outcome.
Understanding Juvenile Delinquency Court
Juvenile probation is a type of punishment issued to minors facing criminal offenses in the juvenile delinquency court. This special court is designed to try misdemeanor and felony matters committed by children or minors. These courts also deal with status offenses such as curfew and truancy violations. A status offense becomes a criminal act when a juvenile commits it.
The Superior Court of Los Angeles has a division tasked with overseeing the juvenile delinquency court and informal juvenile court. The informal juvenile dependency court deals with low-level offenses and infractions, while the delinquency court handles abused, abandoned, and neglected minors.
A juvenile court's jurisdiction is minors aged between twelve and seventeen, although some special cases involving minors below twelve are handled.
On technical grounds, juvenile courts are not affiliated with the criminal court system. However, they are part of civil law where issues regarding minors and the law are adjudicated. Proceedings in Juvenile delinquency is also known as section 602 proceedings.
Juvenile courts are presided over by judges, and the prosecutors try the cases while lawyers represent the minors in defense. However, no jurors are present, and the proceedings are confidential to protect the minors.
In 2018, the governor of California signed SB 439 into law. Under this bill, courts are only allowed to have jurisdiction over children below 12 years if charged with felonious offenses such as sodomy, murder, violence, murder, threats to cause bodily harm, oral copulation, or rape. If a child has not committed such felonies, the court has no jurisdiction to try them.
The language used in juvenile courts is also different from regular courts. Here, minors are not found innocent or guilty of crimes. Instead, if the evidence of their violation is beyond doubt, the presiding judge sustains the District Attorney (DA) petition.
After the hearing of the case against a minor, various sentences or dispositions are available. One of these is probation. The child never admits to having committed the offense, and after they complete the program, the charges against them are dropped.
Juvenile courts focus on rehabilitating the minor and not punishing them. Most sentences offered to a minor are probation but under different circumstances. A minor can be made a ward of the court. This means the responsibility of controlling and treating the minor lies with the court. Similarly, a minor can still serve probation from home and still be a ward of the court. Other times, a minor can be placed under foster care, a probation camp, or a group home for rehabilitation.
As earlier stated, the juvenile delinquency court's primary objective is to rehabilitate minors that break the law. This is the main philosophical difference between the juvenile system and the adult one. Adult courts are designed to punish offenders, while minors are sentenced to probation or to camps to rehabilitate them. The children are expected to continue with their education, be treated, and receive rehabilitation services before reuniting with their families and become productive in society.
An important aspect to understand is that sanctions are there not for retribution but discipline. However, this doesn't mean that minors don't receive punishment for violations they commit. Sanctions in juvenile delinquency courts include:
- Paying fines or restitution
- Spending time in community service
- Attending victim's impact classes
- Staying at a foster home
- Parole or probation conditions
- Sentenced to stay at a camp, ranch, or juvenile hall
- Being committed to the California Youth Authority (CYA)
Court Process for a Juvenile
The court process leading to the minor receiving probation is not very different from that of a regular court. When a minor commits a crime or violates the law, they are arrested as the first step. Some offenses may be trivial, resulting in the arresting officer reprimanding them and releasing them without a court process.
However, depending on the offense’s severity, the officer can take the minor to the probation department's offices. As a result, the minor may be detained briefly at the juvenile hall, waiting for the filing of a petition against them.
The court process in a juvenile court consists of various hearings such as:
- Detention hearing directed at minors already in custody
- Arraignment if the minor defendant is not in custody
- Transfer hearing. This is typical for offenses that fall under 707(b)
- The actual hearing of the case
- Disposition or sentencing following the hearing
Juvenile Probation Types in California
The statutes, regulations, and rules that pertain to juveniles are found under the Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC). There are multiple probation types in California, with the main difference being wardship and non-wardship. Under non-wardship, the probation department does not take the minor away from their family or home. On the other hand, Wardship probation means the court exercises authority over the juvenile, just like their parents would. Additionally, a minor under wardship probation can be removed from their family if the court finds it necessary for their rehabilitation.
Below, we discuss the various types of probations your child can be subjected to if the court believes they committed an offense. These are:
Informal Probation – WIC 654
Under this statute, the probation is also a diversion plan or program where it has been determined that a minor would benefit from it. A probation officer assigned to the minor evaluates them and recommends the program based on their findings. Entering into this program is a voluntary agreement between the minor, their parents or guardians, and the probation officer.
The child, in this case, is entered into informal probation lasting six months and sometimes less. If the minor completes the probation successfully, the charges against them are dropped, and the case is closed. If the minor fails to complete the program, the officer reports this to the DA's office seeking a formal petition in court.
Informal Probation – WIC 654.2
This probation type is a diversion program ordered by the court. For this to happen, the DA's office must file a formal case with a juvenile delinquency court. But, the court avoids sentencing the minor and in its place, prefers holding the case to offer the minor an opportunity to engage in a diversion program supervised by the probation officer or department for six months. Upon successful completion of the plan, the charges against the minor are dismissed. If a minor fails to complete the diversion program as required and they had actually violated the law, the court sentences the minor.
Non-wardship Probation – WIC 725(a)
This type of probation is given to a minor after the court determines that they violated the law. The period of probation is six months, with multiple conditions or terms to be followed. After successful completion of the probation period, the sentence is terminated, and charges dropped.
Wardship Probation – WIC 725(b)
Under this type, the minor is a court's ward. This means the court is given the authority and jurisdiction over the minor. Like other probation types, this type also has terms and conditions that must be adhered to for successful completion of the rehabilitation plan. The period of the probation is six months.
Wardship Probation – WIC 727
This type of probation is also awarded after the court determines the juvenile violated or broke the law. Like other probation types, this one also has conditions and terms. Unlike other probation types where the probation department supervises the minor, the court is the minor's sole supervisor.
Deferred Entry of Judgment Probation – WIC 790
This probation type is also issued after a determination of the violation or breach. After a minor commits a felony, this is a more serious offense compared to a misdemeanor. However, a minor must be eligible for this probation before it is handed down to them. The court typically considers some aspects before issuing deferred judgment probation, and they include:
- That the youth has no prior record of being declared a court's ward and the current violation is their first felony offense
- The charge the minor is currently facing is not for a 707b offense.
- The minor has no prior record of being sentenced to juvenile jail known as California youth authority.
- At the time of the violation or hearing, the minor is not less than 14 years.
- The juvenile's history does not show a revocation of probation not completed.
- The minor qualifies for probation according to PEN 1203.6
Wardship Probation – WIC 602
This is another form of probation awarded to a minor after a court finds they broke the law. This is formal probation supervised by the department of probations in California, and the minor is also considered the court's ward. Under this, the court can continue with their jurisdiction or authority over the minor until 21. However, in cases where the minor is placed under the juvenile Justice Division, the court maintains jurisdiction until 24.
Despite the multiple probation types, not all juveniles that violate the law are sentenced to probation. When the court issues probation to juveniles, the probation department is involved to ensure the terms are adhered to unless the court takes over the minor’s supervision.
Probation Officer or Department's Role in Juvenile Cases
The probation department and officers play a significant role in juvenile delinquency cases when a minor is arrested, to disposition time. Earlier, we mentioned the role of juvenile court is to rehabilitate and not to punish. The law enforcement agencies and courts work together with the probation officers to give juveniles the best rehabilitation chance. Here, we will discuss the roles played by probation officers at the various stages in a minor's case.
When a minor violates the law, a regular police officer will arrest them for the offense. After the arrest, the minor is taken to the juvenile hall for an interview with the probation officer. As the officer interviews the juvenile, they have various options to take based on the outcome of the interview, and they include:
- Sending the minor home after offering them a diversion plan or program. Under this, the understanding is entered between the youth and their family and the probation officer. Additionally, a petition on the case is not filed.
- The officer can also opt to send the child home or place them in a suitable place after issuing a date when the minor will appear before a judge in a juvenile court.
- Have the juvenile detained at a suitable facility for a maximum of 48 hours without counting weekends as a judge waits to make a ruling if the child should continue being in detention.
An important point to note is that solitary detention for over 4 hours is prohibited unless there is an emergency. The juvenile hall staff are also encouraged to use less constraining means to restrain the youth unless they threaten other juveniles and staff in the facility. If solitary confinement risks the minor's physical or mental well-being, it must not be used.
An officer also plays a significant role in the adjudication phase. After interviewing the youth, the officer can recommend to the prosecutor whether an adjudication petition should be filed or not. The officer also recommends whether the minor can be tried according to the juvenile court or under adult court.
If the violation the juvenile is accused of committing falls under 707b offenses, the prosecutor is the one to file the petition. If the breach is not under this category, several factors will be considered by the probation officer before making their recommendations. These are:
- Whether the violation consisted of violence or threats to cause bodily harm to others
- If the juvenile is going through problems or other issues at home, school, or in the community and the significance of the issues to the violations
- The attitude of the minor or their family
- In case the minor disputes having committed the violation and it is determined that having a court disposition is best for the minor
- The minor's maturity, age, and capabilities
The Disposition Phase
After the youth has been sentenced and put on probation, an officer from the probation department is allocated. The assigned officer sometimes is the same one that interviewed the minor, or a new one takes over the case. If the youth receives formal probation, they must have a weekly meeting with the officer or twice a month. The meeting times are at the discretion of the officer handling their probation. If the youth was handed informal probation, the officer might require meetings with them and their family on infrequent times.
During this phase, the officer monitors the minor and assists them to attend the required programs ordered by the court. The officer further guides the minor through the rehabilitation by ensuring they meet all the juvenile court's conditions and terms. The family, guardians, or parents of the juvenile work together with the officer and must report when their child violates the rules to the officer in charge.
When a minor is placed on juvenile probation, some terms will be imposed on them by the probation officer or court. These conditions are often based on the offense and its severity. The minor's criminal past, if any, and their history with community and family also contribute to their probation conditions. Some of the popularly imposed conditions include:
- Going to school without truancy or missing without substantial reasons
- Enrolling and participating in alcohol and drug programs, anger management, and any other programs seen fit according to the probation officer or department.
- Submitting to random testing on alcohol use and drugs
- Obeying curfew times set for them
- Paying restitution or damages to victims of their crime or the property owner they destroyed
- Removing graffiti
- A ban on adorning gang colors or being in the company of gang members and particular persons
- Avoiding interacting or conducting the victim of their crime
- Being ordered to wear an electronic monitoring gadget that monitors their movement and restricts it.
The Role of Probation Officers in Drug Testing During Juvenile Probation Period
If the violation involved drugs or alcohol use, the juvenile court will be concerned with rehabilitating the minor from the habit. If a minor is sentenced to juvenile probation, they will be expected not to consume drugs or alcohol during the probation period. Because of this, the minor must agree to random checks to determine if they have consumed alcohol or drugs.
Probation officers and the department are tasked with ensuring the minor stays sober by conducting random urine tests. The test is typical to check heroin, marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, angel dust, and methamphetamine. Knowing the drugs a minor partakes is important in guiding the probation officers to test for them.
The probation department can engage an expert in drug recognition to determine the type or category of drugs the minor ingested. The symptoms of drug use include:
- Changes in the eyes that include constriction, dilation, or reacting to light
- Sites for injections or marks left by needles
- Coordination tests and the minor's performance in them
- Muscle rigidity when they move
If the drug expert notices these symptoms or signs, among others, they will order the juvenile to submit to a test for particular drugs.
Consequences of Violating Juvenile Probation
Just like adults, a minor must adhere to all the probation terms to avoid the unpleasant consequences that follow. If a minor violates their probation, the probation officer reports the violation to the court. A hearing for the violation is convened, where the presiding judge determines if a minor violated their probation terms or not. The probation officer must present evidence supporting this fact while the minor's lawyer will argue against the revocation or punishment for the violation.
However, some violations are minor to cause a revocation, but they can adjust the probation terms. For instance, if you break the curfew set, the court can allow you to stay on probation but modify the terms.
Other consequences for violating your juvenile probation terms include:
- Revocation of the probation sentence and continuance of the petition stayed if the probation was according to WIC 654
- If you were issued with probation under WIC 725 or 790, it could be revoked, and you are declared a court's ward. If the probation is a non-wardship one, you only have a right to be heard based on your probation officer's report on your disposition. Sometimes, a violation can cause the court to prefer removing the minor from their home. In such a case, you have a right to a hearing where the court will consider all the evidence that suggests remaining at home will be to your benefit as a child.
If you were already a court's ward and violated your probation terms, the prosecutor will want to have your probation revoked by filing a 777 petition. The probation officer or department also writes a report about your probation performance and whether you adhered to the terms. During the hearing, the court allows you to be represented by an attorney who will argue in your favor.
Some of the outcomes of the hearing include:
- Receiving a warning from the court or probation department
- Being ordered to attend more correctional programs
- Perform tasks in community service
- Have an electronic bracelet to monitor your movement
- Be a resident in a drug or alcohol rehabilitation facility.
- Being confined or detained in a juvenile hall
- Being referred to a ranch or camp program
Find a Lawyer Near Me
Young adults often fall into bad company or are confused and lonely as they grow up. The world's changes can overwhelm them, and, as a way to cope, they turn into things not expected of them. During the exploration of life and the world, they make mistakes that amount to violating the law. Here, the parents and the legal system help steer the child back to their correct path.
During this time, a minor will need legal representation to receive the best sentence to facilitate their correction. At the LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we understand juvenile law and the need to help a young person correct their mistakes. Call us at 310-935-1675 to discuss your child's case and formulate the best way to help them according to the law.